A win Saturday against visiting North Dakota would keep UC Davis on track to finish the Big Sky Conference with a winning record and set the stage for the season finale next week against Sacramento State at Hornet Stadium in the 60th Causeway Classic.
The Aggies are 3-7 overall and 3-3 in conference one season after finishing 3-5 in their first year in the Big Sky.
North Dakota also is 3-7 overall but just 2-5 in conference play.
UC Davis has won only once in five home games, but that’s something North Dakota understands. UND had lost five in a row at its domed stadium in Grand Forks, N.D., before rallying from 15 points down in the third quarter to beat Northern Colorado 24-21 last Saturday.
The win was engineered by redshirt freshman quarterback Ryan Bartels, who has worked his way back into the starting job he lost to Joe Mollberg in the second game of the season. Bartels played well two weeks ago in a loss to Northern Arizona and last Saturday helped UND hand Northern Colorado its ninth consecutive loss. In those two games combined, Bartels completed 70 of 106 passes for 711 yards and five touchdowns.
Bartels has an NFL prospect to throw to in 6-foot-4 receiver Kenny Golladay (64 catches), a school record-breaker in senior Greg Hardin (56) and another burner in sophomore Jameer Jackson (50).
“Offensively, they’ve got a lot of speed,” UC Davis coach Ron Gould said. “They’ve got a kickoff return guy (Hardin) who is sensational, and their wide receivers can score from anywhere.”
Hardin has racked up more than 4,800 all-purpose yards in his UND career and nearly 500 of those have come on plays of 80 yards or longer. He is second among active Football Championship Subdivision players with 31 touchdowns.
“At the end of the day, he will sit at the top – or pretty close to the top – of every UND regular-season receiving record we have,” said North Dakota coach Chris Mussman. “It’s been a pleasure to coach him and have him be a huge part of our transition from Division II to Division I and into the Big Sky.”
Tough times in Berkeley – Gould said he feels for the players at Cal, some he had a hand in recruiting during a 16-year career as an assistant coach in Berkeley.
The Bears are 1-9 this season under first-year coach Sonny Dykes.
“My heart goes out to those young men, but one thing for sure is they’re a resilient bunch,” Gould said.
Gould’s wife, Teresa, is still an athletic administrator at Cal and keeps him apprised of how some of his former players are doing.
“Every time she runs into one of the guys, she offers encouragement,” Gould said. “Like I tell my guys, life is about overcoming adversity. It’s easy to say you have character when you win. But it’s when you are faced with adversity and how you respond that shapes your character.”
Running man – Community college walk-on running back Gabe Manzanares is now eighth on UC Davis’ career single-season rushing chart with 1,031 yards. His 114.6 yards per game average ranks third in the Big Sky Conference and 11th in the FCS.
Ex-Aggie honored – Former UC Davis wide receiver Bakari Grant has been named a Canadian Football League East Division All-Star. Grant plays for the Hamilton Tiger Cats.
Grant’s most notable moment with the Aggies came Oct. 4, 2008, when he out-jumped four Northern Colorado defenders for a 38-yard touchdown reception on the game’s last play to beat the Bears 34-30.
NORTH DAKOTA (3-7, 2-5 BIG SKY) AT UC DAVIS (3-7, 3-3)
When: Saturday, 4 p.m.
Where: Aggie Stadium (10,849)
North Dakota at a glance: North Dakota showcases a proficient passing attack that ranks 17th in the FCS at 275.7 yards per game but is near the bottom in rushing (117th of 122 teams) at 83.1 yards, including just four in last Saturday’s 24-21come-from-behind win over Northern Colorado in its home finale. North Dakota coach Chris Mussman said his team’s struggles are easy to pinpoint – the minus-18 turnover ratio is the worst among the Big Sky Conference’s 13 teams. He’s not sure how his players will respond playing their last game of the season in California. “It’s a little bit of concern for me as far as where our motivation is going to be,” Mussman said. “We’re pretty nicked up. This is a stretch of eight in a row for us, and it’s certainly taken a toll from a physical standpoint.”
Aggies at a glance: Coming off a bye week, UC Davis has the Big Sky Conference’s top pass defense (179.2 yards per game) and one of the top running backs in Gabe Manzanares. But the Aggies have had trouble finding the end zone in many of their games. Their 15.9 points per game ranks 113th nationally among FCS schools and second-to-last in the Big Sky. Junior safety Charles Boyett leads the team in tackles with 75, including a season team-high 14 two weeks ago against Cal Poly.
Series: The Aggies lead 3-2 and are 2-1 in home games. UC Davis won three straight games in the series from 2008 to 2010 before losing 14-7 at home in 2011. In 2010, quarterback Randy Wright threw for 286 yards and four touchdowns in the Aggies’ 35-16 win.
SATURDAY'S AREA GAMES
Sacramento State: at Portland State, 1:05 p.m., 1380
UC Davis: vs. North Dakota, 4 p.m., 1140
Stanford: at USC, 5 p.m., Ch. 10, 1050
Cal: at Colorado, 2:30 p.m., PAC12, 810